The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reached a tentative agreement with its 10 labor unions on Aug. 13 -- just two days before nearly 100 workers were scheduled for layoffs.
Details are still sketchy as this issue goes to press, but sources familiar with negotiations say the Aug. 13 deal does not involve any salary concessions, beyond the fact that employees will be contributing roughly 5 percent more for their health care. At the same time, work weeks have been increased from 37.5 hours per week to 40.
One victory for members of the paper's Newspaper Guild employees -- which include newsroom employees like reporters, editors, artists and photographers -- is the addition of health-benefits for same-sex couples. Newsroom employees can partake of the benefits, sources tell City Paper -- but only if they were married legally in a state that permits civil unions. Pennsylvania itself currently bars same-sex marriage.
Sources confirm that the paper has been claiming monthly losses of roughly $1 million. And talks began late last year with the company seeking to eliminate personal days, holiday pay, seniority and sick days. Those were "bedrocks of our contract," Guild president R.J. Hufnagel wrote in a memo to members at the time.
Negotiations have largely been conducted outside of public view, though employees had been growing restive over the past month.
On July 15, according to sources, the paper announced a 30-day layoff notice, as prescribed under its previous contract. Some 30 members of the Newspaper Guild, along with 75 to 80 employees in other departments, were set to be laid off as early as Aug. 15. In protest, some employees on the chopping block began wearing "layoff beards" and displaying on their desks numbers signifying where each reportedly sat in the line for layoffs. P-G staff also began wearing "No P-G without me" buttons, which had been issued during the last labor negotiations. And on Aug. 9, workers staged an impromptu lunchtime "walkout" to object to the threat of layoffs.
That threat, according to sources, has been temporarily suspended while the Post-Gazette prepares buyout offers of long-time employees.
Employees, who have been working without a contract since March, must now ratify the deal. Copies of the pact are being sent to employees this week, and ratification should happen some time in the next month. The paper's 10 unions represent 737 full-time and 69 part-time hourly employees. If those workers approve the new pact, it will run through March 2013, according to a press release from the paper.
Hufnagel declined to comment until the agreement was voted on. While declining further comment, in a written statement, P-G president Christopher H. Chamberlain said the paper was "extremely pleased to have reached this important agreement, and we appreciate the hard work on both sides over the last several months."